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New X-ray boost for biosecurity

MARIKA HILL
Last updated 17:48 26/11/2013

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Travellers attempting to smuggle exotic fruit and animals into the country will now find it harder to duck the strict biosecurity rules.

Border security staff have a clearer view into luggage thanks to 12 new X-ray machines at Auckland, Christchurch, Wellington and Queenstown airports.

Ministry of Primary Industries team leader Brett Hickman said the X-ray machines are more likely to highlight the contraband coming through Customs.

Apples, pears and dried meat are among the more common items, but Mongolian yak's cheese, tropical fish and duck have also been caught in people's luggage.

"We get every part of the duck. The duck feet, tongue and gizzard," he said.

"We even had a whole duck in foil."

The machines are particularly good at picking up the images of animal bones.

Passengers risk a $400 instant fine for failing to comply with New Zealand's tough biosecurity rules.

People come up with every excuse in the book, with 'I didn't know it was in there' being one of the most common rebuttals, Hickman said.

However, he said excuses never work.

Both hand luggage and check-in bags will be screened in the new machines.

The Auckland and Christchurch machines could speed up the queue by automatically unloading luggage.

Minister for Primary Industries Nathan Guy gave the new machines a test run today, picking up some muddy football boots and banana in a test suitcase.

The X-ray machines, which cost about $1 million and replaced 16-year-old equipment, will boost front-line border control, he said.

"The new machines will be more reliable than the Ministry for Primary Industries' older X-ray units and will provide better image quality."

A team of 32 quarantine inspectors and five detector dog handlers also graduated today, increasing staff numbers before the busy summer season.

The ministry is also focusing on Chinese travellers by using translators and electronic translating tools to increase awareness of the rules.

The Chinese are New Zealand's second largest group of air passenger arrivals.

"Visitors from China tend to be poorly informed about New Zealand's biosecurity laws and therefore are less likely to declare or dispose risk items upon arrival."

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